Articles Posted in Divorce

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Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a couple, or an individual, seeking a divorce do not have to prove to the court that there is any specific reason for the divorce, or that one party has committed any specific action that would justify the marriage ending. Instead, the parties can simply assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and there is no reason for it to continue.

In some cases, however, one partner may assert that the marriage has reached the point of no return, while the other may argue that the marriage can still be salvaged, and divorce is not the correct course of action. When this happens, the court must look at all of the information and factors available in determining whether to allow the divorce to move forward.

In a recent Wisconsin divorce case, Marriage of John v. Fritz-Klaus, Mr. John initiated divorce proceedings against Ms. Fritz-Klaus after they had been married for approximately five years. Mr. John told the court that they had been living apart for the last two months and that after an extensive period of trying to work through marital issues, the marriage was irretrievably broken and could not be fixed.  In response, Ms. Fritz-Klaus told the court that she believed the marriage could be saved and that she wanted to work things out rather than pursue a divorce. She requested that the court allow the two parties to engage in counseling for a period of time before moving forward with the divorce. The court initially agreed and ordered Mr. John and Ms. Fritz-Klaus to attend counseling sessions together.

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One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce involving children is navigating the complexity of requiring two parents who no longer get along but are required to make decisions about their children together. While courts want both parents to be as involved as possible in their child’s life, as that is usually in the best interest of the child, they also want to ensure that the parents’ disagreements over issues don’t interfere with the child’s future or prevent important decisions from being made. In order to avoid this problem, courts will sometimes grant one parent more authority or control than the other in order to allow decisions to be made in an expeditious fashion.

In a recent Wisconsin divorce case, the court dealt with this kind of an issue in reviewing a divorce appeal. In In Re Marriage of Robert Corey Burgraff v. Amanda June Burgraff, the court reviewed a divorce decision for one Wisconsin family. They were married in 2012 and had one child. Less than two years after getting married, the wife decided she wanted to end the marriage and moved from Wisconsin to Kentucky. She stayed in Kentucky while her husband stayed in Wisconsin. In January 2015, the husband filed for divorce. The lower court decided to award joint custody to the two parties, with the child to live with the husband during the school year and then with the wife during the summers because the child would begin kindergarten in Wisconsin the next year. Additionally, the court awarded the parents joint legal custody over their child’s education, but decided that the husband would have impasse authority over educational decisions, which meant that if the two parents could not decide about educational opportunities or decision, the husband had the right to the final say. After this ruling was finalized, the wife appealed.

On appeal, the wife argued that awarding the husband impasse authority as to educational decisions was tantamount to awarding him sole legal custody over their child as to educational issues and, under Wisconsin law, in order to do so, the court had to make specific findings to this effect, which it did not actually do. Thus, the wife argued that the court’s ruling was improper.

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In the aftermath of same-sex marriage cases in the Supreme Court, and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, domestic partnerships have taken a bit of a back seat to legal marriage in most states. While the ability of couples of all sexual orientations to be married is certainly an accomplishment to be celebrated, a domestic partnership offers many unique benefits that should not be overlooked.

While Wisconsin has offered domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples since the adoption of a domestic partnership registry in 2009, the legal benefits of this status have recently come to a close. Under legislation passed in 2017, Wisconsin ended its domestic partnership registration in April 2018, changing the landscape of benefits available to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage and a Wisconsin domestic partnership have the same goal of allowing recognized legal status for same-sex couples and conferring upon them many of the benefits held by couples in heterosexual marriages, but the status differed in several key ways, and the loss of domestic partnership registration will have important effects down the road.

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It comes as no surprise to say that divorce and family issues can be very stressful and emotional for any individual.  Divorce can completely change an individual’s life, put their finances in peril, and leave them questioning where they are going to live. Dividing up things and time with kids can take parents away from the things they most value.  All of this can create an environment in which tensions are high and family members are prone to saying and doing things they might not otherwise. Relationships can become further eroded when loved ones lash out in the midst of stress and confusion.

Wisconsin family law attorneys are often inadvertently swept up in these emotions and passions because they represent family members, advocate for their best interests, and, often, have to advocate against the interests of others. Whether petitioning for sole custody or trying to force a spouse to hand over the keys to the house, family law attorneys can quickly become the “bad guys” who are ruining another individual’s life in the process.

Each family law attorney endeavors to represent their clients in the most effective and compassionate way possible, and to minimize lingering damage to relationships or to children. It is never the intention to bring harm to any other party, but the reality is that a divorce is rarely easy, and one side will often feel like they have lost.

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Property division can be complicated by an inheritance received during the marriage. Among other issues, it may be necessary to retain an experienced expert who can trace assets to funds from an inheritance. In a recent Wisconsin appellate decision, a husband appealed a divorce judgment that challenged property division. He argued the court had made a mistake in several respects regarding the valuation and division of property inherited by him. If you have questions about property division in the context of a marital separation, reach out to a Wisconsin divorce attorney.

The couple in this case, both of whom worked in real estate, had married in 2007 and divorced 10 years later when they were in their fifties. Both had acquired investment properties for years. They had attorneys at earlier points in the divorce, but appeared pro se at a final pretrial conference and final evidentiary hearing. The court listened to evidence about many properties acquired before and during the marriage, as well as retirement accounts that were obtained before and during the marriage, bank accounts, multiple vehicles debt, personal property, tax liabilities and investments.

The husband had filed a financial disclosure statement that was not accurate. The primary conflict had to do with a $1.5 million inheritance received during the marriage and he needed to make a disclosure of all assets that were owned separately or jointly long before trial. The court denied maintenance to the parties. Regarding property division, the court awarded most assets to the husband, but also awarded significant assets to the wife. The husband appealed.

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The Wisconsin courts take child support payments very seriously and demand that parents pay close attention to ensure that they are meeting their obligations. While many may think that child support is something that can be put on hold for a period of time while dealing with tough or unpredictable circumstances, the reality is that courts will allow parents very little leeway around their obligations to pay. This is illustrated in a recent decision before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

In Henson v. Henson, Mr. and Mrs. Henson became estranged in 2012. During a child support hearing that year, the Waushara County Child Support Agency petitioned the court to order Mr. Henson to pay child support to Mrs. Henson because the children were living with her at that time. After reviewing financial records and Mr. Henson’s income, Mr. Henson was ordered to pay $116 per week in child support.

In 2015, the child support agency moved to modify that child support order after Mr. Henson left his job and moved into self-employment. Based on the previous unemployment income he had received and his current self-employment, the agency made a recommendation that his child support be increased to $144 per month. Mr. Henson opposed this increase and argued that he had been diagnosed as diabetic and demoted at his old job after he was found unconscious. When he challenged the demotion, he was fired. He stated that although he was now self-employed, he had had difficulty in finding new work, and his unemployment benefits had run out. The court, however, followed the child support agency’s recommendation and raised Mr. Henson’s monthly child support obligations.

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During a divorce, most couples think primarily about how the assets they have will be split up. They want to know who will get the house, the retirement accounts, and the most time with the kids. What many couples may not realize is that the debts of the family must also be split between the couple when they divorce, particularly when those debts are accrued during the marriage. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at how the repayment of credit card debt that arose during a marriage should be allocated between divorced spouses.

In Collison v. Wyderka, Andrew Wyderka and Allison Collison were married over a period of 12 years, starting in 2001. During that period of time, Allison accrued over $24,000 in credit card debt on a card that was in Andrew’s name. According to Allison, the debt was based on purchases made for the family and benefited all of the family members. Eventually, the card became delinquent and went to collections. Allison enlisted the help of her father, and he managed to negotiate the debt down to $7,500, which he paid off in full. Allison and Andrew promised to repay Allison’s father for the debt.

Shortly after the repayment, Andrew filed for divorce. During the pendency of the divorce proceedings, Allison’s father sent a letter to Andrew, demanding repayment of the debt. A small claims court action was eventually initiated. Allison’s father sought repayment of the debt. Andrew then sued Allison for her portion of the repayment, and Allison countersued Andrew, claiming that he had agreed to pay the debt in full.

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Wisconsin law and public policy give significant preference to marriage and marital families. The structures of family law and divorce revolve around the idea that a couple who love each other will get married, have children in wedlock, and later get divorced if needed.

Yet many couples, especially in recent years, have chosen to cohabitate, merge finances, and raise families together without ever officially marrying. When these couples break up, they don’t have the ability to utilize the divorce system in order to divide their property equally and fairly, and, as a result, one spouse sometimes gets the short end of the stick.

As a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court case makes clear, one remedy for this situation that the courts have adopted is to allow former partners in a relationship to seek unjust enrichment claims against the other when the assets of a relationship are not evenly divided.

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After an initial order for child support is made, the obligation falls on the parties to ensure that any necessary child support payments are made on a monthly basis. When a party falls behind on child support payments, this is known as arrears. The party who is entitled to receive the outstanding child support can attempt to recover these arrears by negotiating payment with the party who is not yet paying, or, if not successful, they can file a motion with the court to recover the outstanding amounts, as well as penalties such as interest and attorneys’ fees.

In In Re The Marriage Of : Connie M. Weiland v. John D. WeilandMr. and Mrs. Weiland divorced in 1998 after several years of marriage. As part of their divorce, Mr. Weiland was ordered to pay child support to Ms. Weiland as well as to split uninsured medical expenses with her. Mr. Weiland’s employer was supposed to calculate and take child support out of Mr. Weiland’s paycheck, but at times the employer failed to withdraw the correct amount.

For unexplained reasons, Ms. Weiland waited until 2013 to raise unreimbursed medical expenses with the court, and only in 2015 did she file a contempt motion with the court, alleging that Mr. Weiland had not paid certain medical expenses and child support. The overall amount owed was approximately $9,000. Mr. Weiland had previously paid $355,000 in child support.

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During the process of getting a divorce, most couples will consider whether either spouse should be entitled to receive spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is a payment that one spouse gives to the other in order for the spouse receiving the payment to keep up with the standard of living to which they are accustomed. Whether Wisconsin spousal maintenance should be awarded is based on the circumstances of the spouses at the time of the divorce, including the needs of the parties, the income of the parties, and the standard of living during the divorce.

When spousal maintenance is awarded, it is a finalized and defined amount of money that must be paid every month. However, spousal maintenance can be changed when a substantial change of circumstances occurs. Things like a medical condition, a special needs child, a job loss, or a move can all represent a substantial change of circumstances. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at whether a voluntary job change can also be a change of circumstances justifying a modification of spousal maintenance.

In Marriage of Purdy, Rande and Lisa Purdy divorced after 34 years of marriage. At the time of the divorce, Rande was working as a director of sales for a family liquor company and earning twice what Lisa was earning as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. As a result of the disparity of their income, the court awarded Lisa $1,000 a month in spousal maintenance.

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